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Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act Statement of Policy 2001-1: Clarification of Statement of Policy 1999-1 Regarding Lender Payments to Mortgage Brokers, and Guidance Concerning Unearned Fees Under Section 8(b)

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AGENCY:

Office of the Assistant Secretary for Housing-Federal Housing Commissioner, HUD.

ACTION:

Statement of Policy 2001-1.

SUMMARY:

This Statement of Policy is being issued to eliminate any ambiguity concerning the Department's position with respect to those lender payments to mortgage brokers characterized as yield spread premiums and to overcharges by settlement service providers as a result of questions raised by two recent court decisions, Culpepper v. Irwin Mortgage Corp. and Echevarria v. Chicago Title and Trust Co., respectively. In issuing this Statement of Policy, the Department clarifies its interpretation of Section 8 of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) in Statement of Policy 1999-1 Regarding Lender Payments to Mortgage Brokers (the 1999 Statement of Policy), and reiterates its long-standing interpretation of Section 8(b)'s prohibitions. Culpepper v. Irwin Mortgage Corp. involved the payment of yield spread premiums from lenders to mortgage brokers. Echevarria v. Chicago Title and Trust Co. involved the applicability of Section 8(b) to a settlement service provider that overcharged a borrower for the service of another settlement service provider, and then retained the amount of the overcharge.

Today's Statement of Policy reiterates the Department's position that yield spread premiums are not per se legal or illegal, and clarifies the test for the legality of such payments set forth in HUD's 1999 Statement of Policy. As stated there, HUD's position that lender payments to mortgage brokers are not illegal per se does not imply, however, that yield spread premiums are legal in individual cases or classes of transactions. The legality of yield spread premiums turns on the application of HUD's test in the 1999 Statement of Policy as clarified today.

The Department also reiterates its long-standing position that it may violate Section 8(b) and HUD's implementing regulations: (1) For two or more persons to split a fee for settlement services, any portion of which is unearned; or (2) for one settlement service provider to mark-up the cost of the services performed or goods provided by another settlement service provider without providing additional actual, necessary, and distinct services, goods, or facilities to justify the additional charge; or (3) for one settlement service provider to charge the consumer a fee where no, nominal, or duplicative work is done, or the fee is in excess of the reasonable value of goods or facilities provided or the services actually performed.

This Statement of Policy also reiterates the importance of disclosure so that borrowers can choose the best loan for themselves, and it describes disclosures HUD considers best practices. The Secretary is also announcing that he intends to make full use of his regulatory authority to establish clear requirements for disclosure of mortgage broker fees and to improve the settlement process for lenders, mortgage brokers, and consumers.

EFFECTIVE DATE:

October 18, 2001.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Ivy M. Jackson, Acting Director, RESPA/ILS Division, Room 9156, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 451 Seventh Street, SW., Washington, DC 20410; telephone (202) 708-0502, or (for legal questions) Kenneth A. Markison, Assistant General Counsel for GSE/RESPA, Room 9262, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Washington, DC 20410; telephone (202) 708-3137 (these are not toll-free numbers). Persons who have difficulty hearing or speaking may access this number via TTY by calling the toll-free Federal Information Relay Service at (800) 877-8339.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

General Background

The Department is issuing this Statement of Policy in accordance with 5 U.S.C. 552 as a formal pronouncement of its interpretation of relevant statutory and regulatory provisions. Section 19(a) (12 U.S.C. 2617(a)) of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act of 1974 (12 U.S.C. 2601-2617) (RESPA) specifically authorizes the Secretary “to prescribe such rules and regulations [and] to make such interpretations * * * as may be necessary to achieve the purposes of [RESPA].”

Section 8(a) of RESPA prohibits any person from giving and any person from accepting “any fee, kickback, or thing of value pursuant to an agreement or understanding, oral or otherwise” that real estate settlement service business shall be referred to any person. See 12 U.S.C. 2607(a). Section 8(b) prohibits anyone from giving or accepting “any portion, split, or percentage of any charge made or received for the rendering of a real estate settlement service * * * other than for services actually performed.” 12 U.S.C. 2607(b). Section 8(c) of RESPA provides, “Nothing in [Section 8] shall be construed as prohibiting * * * (2) the payment to any person of a bona fide salary or compensation or other payment for goods or facilities actually furnished or for services actually performed * * *” 12 U.S.C. 2607(c)(2). RESPA also requires the disclosure of settlement costs to consumers at the time of or soon after a borrower applies for a loan and again at the time of real estate settlement. 12 U.S.C. 2603-4. RESPA's requirements apply to transactions involving a “federally related mortgage loan” as that term is defined at 12 U.S.C. 2602(1).

I. Lender Payments to Mortgage Brokers

The Conference Report on the Department's 1999 Appropriations Act directed HUD to address the issue of lender payments to mortgage brokers under RESPA. The Conference Report stated that “Congress never intended payments by lenders to mortgage brokers for goods or facilities actually furnished or for services actually performed to be violations of [Sections 8](a) or (b) (12 U.S.C. sec. 2607) in its enactment of RESPA.” H. Rep. 105-769, at 260. As also directed by Congress, HUD worked with industry groups, federal agencies, consumer groups and other interested parties in collectively producing the 1999 Statement of Policy issued on March 1, 1999. 64 FR 10080. Interested members of the public are urged to consult the 1999 Statement of Policy for a more detailed discussion of the background on lender payments to brokers addressed in today's Statement.

HUD's 1999 Statement of Policy established a two-part test for determining the legality of lender payments to mortgage brokers for table funded transactions and intermediary transactions under RESPA: (1) Whether goods or facilities were actually furnished or services were actually performed for the compensation paid and; (2) whether the payments are reasonably related to the value of the goods or facilities that were actually furnished or services that were actually performed. In applying this test, HUD believes that total compensation should be scrutinized to assure that it is reasonably related to the goods, Start Printed Page 53053facilities, or services furnished or performed to determine whether it is legal under RESPA. In the determination of whether payments from lenders to mortgage brokers are permissible under Section 8 of RESPA, the threshold question is whether there were goods or facilities actually furnished or services actually performed for the total compensation paid to the mortgage broker. Where a lender payment to a mortgage broker comprises a portion of total broker compensation, the amount of the payment is not, under the HUD test, scrutinized separately and apart from total broker compensation.

Since HUD issued its 1999 Statement of Policy, most courts have held that yield spread premiums from lenders to mortgage brokers are legal provided that such payments meet the test for legality articulated in the 1999 Statement of Policy and otherwise comport with RESPA. However, in a recent decision, Culpepper v. Irwin Mortgage Corp., 253 F.3d 1324 (11th Cir. 2001), the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld certification of a class in a case alleging that yield spread premiums violated Section 8 of RESPA where the defendant lender, pursuant to a prior understanding with mortgage brokers, paid yield spread premiums to the brokers based solely on the brokers' delivery of above par interest rate loans. The court concluded that a jury could find that yield spread premiums were illegal kickbacks or referral fees under RESPA where the lender's payments were based exclusively on interest rate differentials reflected on rate sheets, and the lender had no knowledge of what services, if any, the broker performed. The court described HUD's 1999 Statement of Policy as “ambiguous.” Id. at 1327. Accordingly, and because courts have now rendered conflicting decisions, HUD has an obligation to clarify its position and issues this Statement today to provide such clarification and certainty to lenders, brokers, and consumers.

Because this clarification focuses on the legality of lender payments to mortgage brokers in transactions subject to RESPA, the coverage of this statement is restricted to payments to mortgage brokers in table funded and intermediary broker transactions. Lender payments to mortgage brokers where mortgage brokers initially fund the loan and then sell the loan after settlement are outside the coverage of this statement as exempt from RESPA under the secondary market exception.

II. Disclosure

Besides establishing the two-part test for determining the legality of yield spread premiums, the 1999 Statement of Policy discussed the importance of disclosure in permitting borrowers to choose the best loan for themselves. The mortgage transaction is complicated, and most people engage in such transactions relatively infrequently, compared to the other purchases they make. In some instances, borrowers have paid very large origination costs, either up front fees, yield spread premiums, or both, which they might have been able to avoid with timely disclosure. Timely disclosure would permit them to shop for preferable origination costs and mortgage terms and to agree to those costs and terms that meet their needs. The Department therefore is issuing a clarification of the importance of disclosure, with a description of disclosures that it considers to be best practices.

In this Statement of Policy, the Secretary is announcing that he intends to make full use of his regulatory authority as expeditiously as possible to provide clear requirements and guidance prospectively regarding disclosure of mortgage broker fees and, more broadly, to improve the mortgage settlement process so that homebuyers and homeowners are better served. Pending the promulgation of such a rule, the Secretary asks the industry to adopt new disclosure requirements to promote competition and to better serve consumers.

III. Unearned Fees

The 1999 Statement of Policy also touched upon another area of recurring questions under Section 8 of RESPA: the legality of payments that are in excess of the reasonable value of the goods or facilities provided or services performed. See 64 FR 10082-3.

Since RESPA was enacted, HUD has consistently interpreted Section 8(b) and HUD's RESPA regulations to prohibit settlement service providers from charging unearned fees, as occurred in Echevarria v. Chicago Title & Trust Co., 256 F.3d 623 (7th Cir. 2001). Such an interpretation is consistent with Congress's finding, when enacting RESPA, that consumers need protection from unnecessarily high settlement costs. Through this Statement of Policy, HUD makes clear that Section 8(b) prohibits any person from giving or accepting any fees other than payments for goods and facilities provided or services actually performed. Payments that are unearned fees occur in, but are not limited to, cases where: (1) Two or more persons split a fee for settlement services, any portion of which is unearned; or (2) one settlement service provider marks-up the cost of the services performed or goods provided by another settlement service provider without providing additional actual, necessary, and distinct services, goods, or facilities to justify the additional charge; or (3) one settlement service provider charges the consumer a fee where no, nominal, or duplicative work is done, or the fee is in excess of the reasonable value of goods or facilities provided or the services actually performed.

In a July 5, 2001 decision, the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit concluded that unearned fees must be passed from one settlement provider to another in order for such fees to violate Section 8(b). Accordingly, the court held that a settlement service provider did not violate Section 8(b) when, in billing a borrower, it added an overcharge to another provider's fees and retained the additional charge without providing any additional goods, facilities or services. Echevarria v. Chicago Title & Trust Co. Other courts have held that two or more parties must split or share a fee in order for a violation of Section 8(b) to occur. Still other courts have stated, however, that a single provider can violate Section 8(b). Because the courts are now divided, HUD is issuing this Statement of Policy to reiterate its interpretation of Section 8(b).

The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit rendered its conclusion in Echevarria “absent a formal commitment by HUD to an opposing position. * * *” Id. at 630. In issuing this Statement of Policy pursuant to Section 19(a), HUD reiterates its position on unearned fees under Section 8(b) of RESPA, which HUD regards as long standing.

IV. Statement of Policy 2001-1

To give guidance to interested members of the real estate settlement industry and the general public on the application of RESPA and its implementing regulations, the Secretary hereby issues the following Statement of Policy. The interpretations embodied in this Statement of Policy are issued pursuant to Section 19(a) of RESPA. 12 U.S.C. 2617(a).

Part A. Mortgage Broker Fees

Yield Spread Premiums

One of the primary barriers to homeownership and homeowners' ability to refinance and lower their housing costs is the up front cash needed to obtain a mortgage. The closing costs and origination fees associated with a mortgage loan are a significant component of these up front Start Printed Page 53054cash requirements. Borrowers may choose to pay these fees out of pocket, or to pay the origination fees, and possibly all the closing fees, by financing them; i.e., adding the amount of such fees to the principal balance of their mortgage loan. The latter approach, however, is not available to those whose loan-to-value ratio has already reached the maximum permitted by the lender. For those without the available cash, who are at the maximum loan-to-value ratio, or who simply choose to do so, there is a third option. This third option is a yield spread premium.

Yield spread premiums permit homebuyers to pay some or all of the up front settlement costs over the life of the mortgage through a higher interest rate. Because the mortgage carries a higher interest rate, the lender is able to sell it to an investor at a higher price. In turn, the lender pays the broker an amount reflective of this price difference. The payment allows the broker to recoup the up front costs incurred on the borrower's behalf in originating the loan. Payments from lenders to brokers based on the rates of borrowers' loans are characterized as “indirect” fees and are referred to as yield spread premiums.[1]

A yield spread premium is calculated based upon the difference between the interest rate at which the broker originates the loan and the par, or market, rate offered by a lender. The Department believes, and industry and consumers agree, that a yield spread premium can be a useful means to pay some or all of a borrower's settlement costs. In these cases, lender payments reduce the up front cash requirements to borrowers. In some cases, borrowers are able to obtain loans without paying any up front cash for the services required in connection with the origination of the loan. Instead, the fees for these services are financed through a higher interest rate on the loan. The yield spread premium thus can be a legitimate tool to assist the borrower. The availability of this option fosters homeownership.

HUD has recognized the utility of yield spread premiums in regulations issued prior to the 1999 Statement of Policy. In a final rule concerning “Deregulation of Mortgagor Income Requirements,” HUD indicated that up front costs could be lowered by yield spread premiums.54 FR 38646 (September 20, 1989).

In a 1992 rule concerning RESPA, HUD specifically listed yield spread premiums as an example of fees that must be disclosed. The example was codified as Illustrations of Requirements of RESPA, Fact Situations 5 and 13 in Appendix B to 24 CFR part 3500. (See also Instructions at Appendix A to 24 CFR part 3500 for Completing HUD-1 and HUD-1A Settlement Statements.) HUD did not by these examples mean that yield spread premiums were per se legal, but HUD also did not mean that yield spread premiums were per se illegal.

HUD also recognizes, however, that in some cases less scrupulous brokers and lenders take advantage of the complexity of the settlement transaction and use yield spread premiums as a way to enhance the profitability of mortgage transactions without offering the borrower lower up front fees. In these cases, yield spread premiums serve to increase the borrower's interest rate and the broker's overall compensation, without lowering up front cash requirements for the borrower. As set forth in this Statement of Policy, such uses of yield spread premiums may result in total compensation in excess of what is reasonably related to the total value of the origination services provided by the broker, and fail to comply with the second part of HUD's two-part test as enunciated in the 1999 Statement of Policy, and with Section 8.

The 1999 Statement of Policy's Test for Legality

The Department restates its position that yield spread premiums are not per se illegal. HUD also reiterates that this statement “does not imply * * * that yield spread premiums are legal in individual cases or classes of transactions.” 64 FR 10084. The legality of any yield spread premium can only be evaluated in the context of the test HUD established and the specific factual circumstances applicable to each transaction in which a yield spread premium is used.

The 1999 Statement of Policy established a two-part test for determining whether lender payments to mortgage brokers are legal under RESPA. In applying Section 8 and HUD's regulations, the 1999 Statement of Policy stated:

In transactions where lenders make payments to mortgage brokers, HUD does not consider such payments (i.e., yield spread premiums or any other class of named payments) to be illegal per se. HUD does not view the name of the payment as the appropriate issue under RESPA. HUD's position that lender payments to mortgage brokers are not illegal per se does not imply, however, that yield spread premiums are legal in individual cases or classes of transactions. The fees in cases and classes of transactions are illegal if they violate the prohibitions of Section 8 of RESPA.

In determining whether a payment from a lender to a mortgage broker is permissible under Section 8 of RESPA, the first question is whether goods or facilities were actually furnished or services were actually performed for the compensation paid. The fact that goods or facilities have been actually furnished or that services have been actually performed by the mortgage broker does not by itself make the payment legal. The second question is whether the payments are reasonably related to the value of the goods or facilities that were actually furnished or services that were actually performed.

In applying this test, HUD believes that total compensation should be scrutinized to assure that it is reasonably related to goods, facilities, or services furnished or performed to determine whether it is legal under RESPA. Total compensation to a broker includes direct origination and other fees paid by the borrower, indirect fees, including those that are derived from the interest rate paid by the borrower, or a combination of some or all. The Department considers that higher interest rates alone cannot justify higher total fees to mortgage brokers. All fees will be scrutinized as part of total compensation to determine that total compensation is reasonably related to the goods or facilities actually furnished or services actually performed. HUD believes that total compensation should be carefully considered in relation to price structures and practices in similar transactions and in similar markets. 64 FR 10084.

Culpepper

The need for further clarification of HUD's position, as set forth in the 1999 Statement of Policy, on the treatment of lender payments to mortgage brokers under Section 8 of RESPA (12 U.S.C. 2607), is evident from the recent decision of the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Culpepper.

In upholding class certification in Culpepper, the court only applied the first part of the HUD test, and then further narrowed its examination of whether the lender's yield spread payments were “for services” by focusing exclusively on the presumed intent of the lender in making the payments. The crux of the court's decision is that Section 8 liability for the payment of unlawful referral fees could be established under the first part of the HUD test alone, based on the facts that the lender's payments to mortgage brokers were calculated solely on the difference between the par interest rate and the higher rate at which the mortgage brokers delivered loans, and that the lender had no knowledge of what services, if any, the brokers had performed.

HUD was not a party to the case and disagrees with the judicial interpretation regarding Section 8 of Start Printed Page 53055RESPA and the 1999 Statement of Policy.

Clarification of the HUD Test

It is HUD's position that where compensable services are performed, the 1999 Statement of Policy requires application of both parts of the HUD test before a determination can be made regarding the legality of a lender payment to a mortgage broker.

1. The First Part of the HUD Test: Under the first part of HUD's test, the total compensation to a mortgage broker, of which a yield spread premium may be a component or the entire amount, must be for goods or facilities provided or services performed. HUD's position is that in order to discern whether a yield spread premium was for goods, facilities or services under the first part of the HUD test, it is necessary to look at each transaction individually, including examining all of the goods or facilities provided or services performed by the broker in the transaction, whether the goods, facilities or services are paid for by the borrower, the lender, or partly by both.

It is HUD's position that neither Section 8(a) of RESPA nor the 1999 Statement of Policy supports the conclusion that a yield spread premium can be presumed to be a referral fee based solely upon the fact that the lender pays the broker a yield spread premium that is based upon a rate sheet, or because the lender does not have specific knowledge of what services the broker has performed. HUD considers the latter situation to be rare. The common industry practice is that lenders follow underwriting standards that demand a review of originations and that therefore lenders typically know that brokers have performed the services required to meet those standards.

Yield spread premiums are by definition derived from the interest rate. HUD believes that a rate sheet is merely a mechanism for displaying the yield spread premium, and does not indicate whether a particular yield spread premium is a payment for goods and facilities actually furnished or services actually performed under the HUD test. Whether or not a yield spread premium is legal or illegal cannot be determined by the use of a rate sheet, but by how HUD's test applies to the transaction involved.

Section 8 prohibits the giving and accepting of fees, kickbacks, or things of value for the referral of settlement services and also unearned fees. It is therefore prudent for a lender to take action so as to ensure that brokers are performing compensable services and receiving only compensation that, in total, is reasonable for those services provided. As stated, however, in the 1999 Statement of Policy:

The Department recognizes that some of the goods or facilities actually furnished or services actually performed by the broker in originating a loan are “for” the lender and other goods or facilities actually furnished or services actually performed are “for” the borrower. HUD does not believe that it is necessary or even feasible to identify or allocate which facilities, goods or services are performed or provided for the lender, for the borrower, or as a function of State or Federal law. All services, goods and facilities inure to the benefit of both the borrower and the lender in the sense that they make the loan transaction possible. * * * 64 FR 10086.

The 1999 Statement of Policy provided a list of compensable loan origination services originally developed by HUD in a response to an inquiry from the Independent Bankers Association of America (IBAA), which HUD considers relevant in evaluating mortgage broker services. In analyzing each transaction to determine if services are performed HUD believes the 1999 Statement of Policy should be used as a guide. As stated there, the IBAA list is not exhaustive, and while technology is changing the process of performing settlement services, HUD believes that the list is still a generally accurate description of settlement services. Compensation for these services may be paid either by the borrower or by the lender, or partly by both. Compensable services for the first part of the test do not include referrals or no, nominal, or duplicative work.

2. Reasonableness of Broker Fees: The second part of HUD's test requires that total compensation to the mortgage broker be reasonably related to the total set of goods or facilities actually furnished or services performed.

The 1999 Statement of Policy said in part:

The Department considers that higher interest rates alone cannot justify higher total fees to mortgage brokers. All fees will be scrutinized as part of total compensation to determine that total compensation is reasonably related to the goods or facilities actually furnished or services actually performed. 64 FR 10084.

Accordingly, the Department believes that the second part of the test is applied by determining whether a mortgage broker's total compensation is reasonable. Total compensation includes fees paid by a borrower and any yield spread premium paid by a lender, not simply the yield spread premium alone. Yield spread premiums serve to allow the borrower a lower up front cash payment in return for a higher interest rate, while allowing the broker to recoup the total costs of originating the loan. Total compensation to the broker must be reasonably related to the total value of goods or facilities provided or services performed by the broker. Simply delivering a loan with a higher interest rate is not a compensable service. The Department affirms the 1999 Statement of Policy's position on this matter for purposes of RESPA enforcement.

The 1999 Statement also said:

In analyzing whether a particular payment or fee bears a reasonable relationship to the value of the goods or facilities actually furnished or services actually performed, HUD believes that payments must be commensurate with the amount normally charged for similar services, goods or facilities. This analysis requires careful consideration of fees paid in relation to price structures and practices in similar transactions and in similar markets. If the payment or a portion thereof bears no reasonable relationship to the market value of the goods, facilities or services provided, the excess over the market rate may be used as evidence of a compensated referral or an unearned fee in violation of Section 8(a) or (b) of RESPA. 64 FR 10086.

The 1999 Statement of Policy also stated:

The level of services mortgage brokers provide in particular transactions depends on the level of difficulty involved in qualifying applicants for particular loan programs. For example, applicants have differences in credit ratings, employment status, levels of debt, or experience that will translate into various degrees of effort required for processing a loan. Also, the mortgage broker may be required to perform various levels of services under different servicing or processing arrangements with wholesale lenders. 64 FR 10081.

In evaluating mortgage broker fees for enforcement purposes, HUD will consider these factors as relevant in assessing the reasonableness of mortgage broker compensation, as well as comparing total compensation for loans of similar size and similar characteristics within similar geographic markets.

Also, while the Department continues to believe that comparison to prices in similar markets is generally a key factor in determining whether a mortgage broker's total compensation is reasonable, it is also true that in less competitive markets comparisons to the prices charged by other similarly situated providers may not, standing alone, provide a useful measure. As a general principle, HUD believes that in evaluating the reasonableness of broker compensation in less competitive markets, consideration of price structures from a wider range of Start Printed Page 53056providers may be warranted to reach a meaningful conclusion.

Part B. Providing Meaningful Information to Borrowers

In addition to addressing the legality of yield spread premiums in the 1999 Statement of Policy, HUD emphasized the importance of disclosing broker fees, including yield spread premiums.

There is no requirement under existing law that consumers be fully informed of the broker's services and compensation prior to the GFE. Nevertheless, HUD believes that the broker should provide the consumer with information about the broker's services and compensation, and agreement by the consumer to the arrangement should occur as early as possible in the process. 64 FR 10087.

HUD continues to believe that disclosure is extremely important, and that many of the concerns expressed by borrowers over yield spread premiums can be addressed by disclosing yield spread premiums, borrower compensation to the broker, and the terms of the mortgage loan, so that the borrower may evaluate and choose among alternative loan options.

In the 1999 Statement of Policy, HUD stated:

* * * HUD believes that for the market to work effectively, borrowers should be afforded a meaningful opportunity to select the most appropriate product and determine what price they are willing to pay for the loan based on disclosures which provide clear and understandable information.

The Department reiterates its long-standing view that disclosure alone does not make illegal fees legal under RESPA. On the other hand, while under current law, pre-application disclosure to the consumer is not required, HUD believes that fuller information provided at the earliest possible moment in the shopping process would increase consumer satisfaction and reduce the possibility of misunderstanding. 64 FR 10087.

HUD currently requires the disclosure of yield spread premiums on the Good Faith Estimate and the HUD-1. The 1999 Statement of Policy said:

The Department has always indicated that any fees charged in settlement transactions should be clearly disclosed so that the consumer can understand the nature and recipient of the payment. Code-like abbreviations like ‘YSP to DBG, POC’, for instance, have been noted. [Footnote omitted.] Also the Department has seen examples on the GFE and/or the settlement statement where the identity and/or purposes of the fees are not clearly disclosed.

The Department considers unclear and confusing disclosures to be contrary to the statute's and the regulation's purposes of making RESPA-covered transactions understandable to the consumer. At a minimum, all fees to the mortgage broker are to be clearly labeled and properly estimated on the GFE. On the settlement statement, the name of the recipient of the fee (in this case, the mortgage broker) is to be clearly labeled and listed, and the fee received from a lender is to be clearly labeled and listed in the interest of clarity. 64 FR 10086-10087.

While the disclosure on the GFE and HUD-1 is required, the Department is aware and has stated that the current GFE/HUD-1 disclosure framework is often insufficient to adequately inform consumers about yield spread premiums and other lender paid fees to brokers. Under the current rules, the GFE need not be provided until after the consumer has applied for a mortgage and may have paid a significant fee, and the HUD-1 is only given at closing. Because of this, HUD has in recent years sought to foster a more consumer beneficial approach to disclosure regarding yield spread premiums through successive rulemaking efforts. This history is discussed more fully in the 1999 Statement of Policy.[2]

Representatives of the mortgage industry have said that since the 1999 Statement of Policy, many brokers provide borrowers a disclosure describing the function of mortgage brokers and stating that a mortgage broker may receive a fee in the transaction from the lender. While the 1999 Statement of Policy commended the National Association of Mortgage Brokers and the Mortgage Bankers Association of America for strongly suggesting such a disclosure to their respective memberships, the Statement of Policy added:

Although this statement of policy does not mandate disclosures beyond those currently required by RESPA and Regulation X, the most effective approach to disclosure would allow a prospective borrower to properly evaluate the nature of the services and all costs for a broker transaction, and to agree to such services and costs before applying for a loan. Under such an approach, the broker would make the borrower aware of whether the broker is or is not serving as the consumer's agent to shop for a loan, and the total compensation to be paid to the mortgage broker, including the amounts of each of the fees making up the compensation. 64 FR 10087.

In HUD's view, meaningful disclosure includes many types of information: what services a mortgage broker will perform, the amount of the broker's total compensation for performing those services (including any yield spread premium paid by the lender), and whether or not the broker has an agency or fiduciary relationship with the borrower. The disclosure should also make the borrower aware that he or she may pay higher up front costs for a mortgage with a lower interest rate, or conversely pay a higher interest rate in return for lower up front costs, and should identify the specific trade-off between the amount of the increase in the borrower's monthly payment (and also the increase in the interest rate) and the amount by which up front costs are reduced. HUD believes that disclosure of this information, and written acknowledgment by the borrower that he or she has received the information, should be provided early in the transaction. Such disclosure facilitates comparison shopping by the borrower, to choose the best combination of up front costs and mortgage terms from his or her individual standpoint. HUD regards full disclosure and written acknowledgment by the borrower, at the earliest possible time, as a best practice.

Yield spread premiums are currently required to be listed in the “800” series of the HUD-1 form, listing “Items Payable in Connection with Loan.” This existing practice, however, does not disclose the purpose of the yield spread premium, which is to lower up front cost to borrowers. To achieve this end it has been suggested to the Department that the yield spread premium should be reported as a credit to the borrower in the “200” series, among the “Amounts Paid by or in Behalf of Borrowers.” The homebuyer or homeowner could then see that the yield spread premium is reducing closing costs, and also see the extent of the reduction.

HUD believes that improved early disclosure regarding mortgage broker compensation and the entry of yield spread premiums as credits to borrowers on the GFE and the HUD-1 settlement statement are both useful and complementary forms of disclosure. The Department believes that used together these methods of disclosure offer greater assurance that lender payments to mortgage brokers serve borrowers' best interests.

While the 1999 Policy Statement and IV. Part A. of this Statement only cover certain lender payments to mortgage brokers, as described above, HUD also believes that similar information on the trade-off between lower up front costs and higher interest rates and monthly payments should be disclosed to borrowers on all mortgage loan originations, not merely those originated by brokers. HUD is aware that while yield spread premiums are not used in loans originated by lenders, lenders are able to offer loans with low or no up Start Printed Page 53057front costs required at closing by charging higher interest rates and recouping the costs by selling the loans into the secondary market for a price representing the difference between the interest rate on the loan and the par, or market, interest rate. Sale of such a loan achieves the same purpose as the yield spread premium does on a loan originated by a broker. The Department strongly believes that all lenders and brokers should provide the level of consumer disclosure that the purposes of RESPA intend and that fair business practices demand. As indicated in the 1999 Statement of Policy, HUD emphasizes that fuller information provided as early as possible in the shopping process would increase consumer satisfaction and reduce the possibility of misunderstanding. In the future, full and early disclosures are factors that the Department would weigh favorably in exercising its enforcement discretion in cases involving mortgage broker fees. Nevertheless, the Department also again makes clear that disclosure alone does not make illegal fees legal under RESPA. The Department will scrutinize all relevant information in making enforcement decisions, including whether transactions evidence practices that may be illegal.

Part C. Section 8(b) Unearned Fees

A. Background

RESPA was enacted in 1974 to provide consumers “greater and more timely information on the nature of the costs of the [real estate] settlement process” and to protect consumers from “unnecessarily high settlement charges caused by certain abusive practices * * *” 12 U.S.C. 2601.

Since RESPA was enacted, HUD has interpreted Section 8(b) as prohibiting any person from giving or accepting any unearned fees, i.e., charges or payments for real estate settlement services other than for goods or facilities provided or services performed. Payments that are unearned fees for settlement services occur in, but are not limited to, cases where: (1) Two or more persons split a fee for settlement services, any portion of which is unearned; or (2) one settlement service provider marks-up the cost of the services performed or goods provided by another settlement service provider without providing additional actual, necessary, and distinct services, goods, or facilities to justify the additional charge; or (3) one settlement service provider charges the consumer a fee where no, nominal, or duplicative work is done, or the fee is in excess of the reasonable value of goods or facilities provided or the services actually performed.

In the first situation, two settlement service providers split or share a fee charged to a consumer and at least part, if not all, of at least one provider's share of the fee is unearned. In the second situation, a settlement service provider charges a fee to a consumer for another provider's services that is higher than the actual price of such services, and keeps the difference without performing any actual, necessary, and distinct services to justify the additional charge. In the third situation, one settlement service provider charges a fee to a consumer where no work is done or the fee exceeds the reasonable value of the services performed by that provider, and for this reason the fee or any portion thereof for which services are not performed is unearned.

HUD regards all of these situations as legally indistinguishable, in that they involve payments for settlement services where all or a portion of the fees are unearned and, thus, are violative of the statute. HUD, therefore, specifically interprets Section 8(b) as not being limited to situations where at least two persons split or share an unearned fee for the provision to be violated.

As already indicated in this Statement of Policy, meaningful disclosure of all charges and fees is essential under RESPA. Such disclosures help protect consumers from paying unearned or duplicate fees. However, as noted above, in the 1999 Statement of Policy the Department reiterated “its long-standing view that disclosure alone does not make illegal fees legal under RESPA.” 64 FR 10087.

B. HUD's Guidance and Regulations

HUD guidance and regulations have consistently interpreted Section 8 as prohibiting all unearned fees. In 1976, HUD issued a Settlement Costs Booklet that provided that “[i] t is also illegal to charge or accept a fee or part of a fee where no service has actually been performed.” 41 FR 20289 (May 17, 1976). Between 1976 and 1992, HUD indicated in informal opinions that unearned fees occur where there are excessive fees charged, regardless of the number of settlement service providers involved.[3]

In the preamble to HUD's 1992 final rule revising Regulation X (57 FR 49600 (November 2, 1992)), HUD stated: “Section 8 of RESPA (12 U.S.C. 2607) prohibits kickbacks for referral of business incident to or part of a settlement service and also prohibits the splitting of a charge for a settlement service, other than for services actually performed (i.e., no payment of unearned fees).” 57 FR 49600 (November 2, 1992).

HUD's regulations, published on November 2, 1992, implement Section 8(b). Section 3500.14(c)[4] provides:

No person shall give and no person shall accept any portion, split, or percentage of any charge made or received for the rendering of a settlement service in connection with a transaction involving a federally-related mortgage loan other than for services actually performed. A charge by a person for which no or nominal services are performed or for which duplicative fees are charged is an unearned fee and violates this Section. The source of the payment does not determine whether or not a service is compensable. Nor may the prohibitions of this part be avoided by creating an arrangement wherein the purchaser of services splits the fee.

24 CFR 3500.14(g)(2) states in part:

The Department may investigate high prices to see if they are the result of a referral fee or a split of a fee. If the payment of a thing of value bears no reasonable relationship to the market value of the goods or services provided, then the excess is not for services or goods actually performed or provided. These facts may be used as evidence of a violation of Section 8 and may serve as a basis for a RESPA investigation. High prices standing alone are not proof of a RESPA violation.

24 CFR 3500.14(g)(3) provides in part:

When a person in a position to refer settlement service business * * * receives a payment for providing additional settlement services as part of a real estate transaction, such payment must be for services that are actual, necessary and distinct from the primary services provided by such person.

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In Appendix B to the HUD RESPA regulations, HUD provides illustrations of the requirements of RESPA. Comment 3 states in part:

The payment of a commission or portion of the * * * premium * * * or receipt of a portion of the payment * * * where no substantial services are being performed * * * is a violation of Section 8 of RESPA. It makes no difference whether the payment comes from [the settlement service provider] or the purchaser. The amount of the payment must bear a reasonable relationship to the services rendered. Here [the real estate broker in the example] is being compensated for a referral of business to [the title company].

In 1996, in the preamble to the final rule on the Withdrawal of Employer/Employee and Computer Loan Origination Systems Exemptions [5] (61 FR 29238 (June 7, 1996)), HUD reiterated its interpretation of Section 8(b) of RESPA as follows:

HUD believes that Section 8(b) of the statute and the legislative history make clear that no person is allowed to receive ‘any portion’ of charges for settlement services, except for services actually performed. The provisions of Section 8(b) could apply in a number of situations: (1) where one settlement service provider receives an unearned fee from another provider; (2) where one settlement service provider charges the consumer for third-party services and retains an unearned fee from the payment received; or (3) where one settlement service provider accepts a portion of a charge (including 100% of the charge) for other than services actually performed. The interpretation urged [by the commenters to the proposed rule published on July 21, 1994], that a single settlement service provider can charge unearned or excessive fees so long as the fees are not shared with another, is an unnecessarily restrictive interpretation of a statute designed to reduce unnecessary costs to consumers. The Secretary, charged by statute with interpreting RESPA, interprets Section 8(b) to mean that two persons are not required for the provision to be violated. 61 FR 29249.

The latest revision to the Settlement Costs Booklet for consumers, issued in 1997, also provides “[i]t is also illegal for anyone to accept a fee or part of a fee for services if that person has not actually performed settlement services for the fee.” 62 FR 31998 (June 11, 1997).

Further, HUD has provided information to the public and the mortgage industry in the “Frequently Asked Questions” section of its RESPA Web site, located at <http://www. hud.gov/fha/sfh/res/resindus.html>. Question 25 states:

Can a lender collect from the borrower an appraisal fee of $200, listing the fee as such on the HUD-1, yet pay an independent appraiser $175 and collect the $25 difference?

The answer reads:

No, the lender may only collect $175 as the actual charge. It is a violation of Section 8(b) for any person to accept a split of a fee where services are not performed.

In 1999, by letter submitted at the request of the Superior Court of California, Los Angeles County, in the case of Brown v. Washington Mutual Bank (Case No. BC192874), HUD provided the following response to a specific question posed by the court on lender “markups” of another settlement service provider's fees:

A lender that purchases third party vendor services for purposes of closing a federally related mortgage loan may not, under RESPA, mark up the third party vendor fees for purposes of making a profit. HUD has consistently advised that where lenders or others charge consumers marked-up prices for services performed by the third party providers without performing additional services, such charges constitute “splits of fees” or “unearned fees” in violation of Section 8(b) of RESPA.

HUD noted in its letter to the court that the response reflected the Department's long-standing position.

C. Recent Cases

Notwithstanding HUD's regulations and other guidance, the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held, in Echevarria v. Chicago Title and Trust Co., 256 F.3d 623 (7th Cir. 2001), that Section 8(b) was not violated where a title company, without performing any additional services, charged the plaintiffs more money than was required by the recorder's office to record a deed and the title company then retained the difference. The court reasoned that plaintiffs “failed to plead facts tending to show that Chicago Title illegally shared fees with the Cook County Recorder. The Cook County Recorder received no more than its regular recording fees and it did not give to or arrange for Chicago Title to receive an unearned portion of these fees. The County Recorder has not engaged in the third party involvement necessary to state a claim under [RESPA § 8(b)].” Id. at 626. The court in essence concluded that unearned fees must be passed from one settlement provider to another in order for such fees to violate Section 8(b).

Earlier, in Willis v. Quality Mortgage USA, Inc., 5 F. Supp. 2d 1306 (M.D. Ala. 1998), cited by the Seventh Circuit in support of its conclusion, the district court concluded that 24 CFR 3500.14(c), “[w]hen read as a whole,” prohibits payments for which no services are performed “only if those payments are split with another party.” Id. at 1309. The Willis court held that there must be a split of a charge between a settlement service provider and a third party to establish a violation Section 8(b). The court also concluded that 24 CFR 3500.14(g)(3) only applied when there was a payment from a lender to a broker, or vice versa. The payment from a borrower to a mortgage lender could not be the basis for a violation of 24 CFR 3500.14(g)(3) and Section 8(b).

HUD was not a party to the cases and disagrees with these judicial interpretations of Section 8(b) which it regards as inconsistent with HUD's regulations and HUD's long-standing interpretations of Section 8(b).

D. Unearned Fees Under Section 8(b)

This Statement of Policy reaffirms HUD's existing, long-standing interpretation of Section 8(b) of RESPA. Sections 8(a) and (b) of RESPA contain distinct prohibitions. Section 8(a) prohibits the giving or acceptance of any payment pursuant to an agreement or understanding for the referral of settlement service business involving a federally related mortgage loan; it is intended to eliminate kickbacks or compensated referral arrangements among settlement service providers. Section 8(b) prohibits the giving or accepting of any portion, split, or percentage of any charge other than for goods or facilities provided or services performed; it is intended to eliminate unearned fees. Such fees are contrary to the Congressional finding when enacting RESPA that consumers need protection from unnecessarily high settlement charges. 12 U.S.C. 2601(a).

It is HUD's position that Section 8(b) proscribes the acceptance of any portion or part of a charge other than for services actually performed. Inasmuch as Section 8(b)'s proscription against “any portion, split, or percentage” of an unearned charge for settlement services is written in the disjunctive, the prohibition is not limited to a split. In HUD's view, Section 8(b) forbids the paying or accepting of any portion or percentage of a settlement service—including up to 100%—that is unearned, whether the entire charge is divided or split among more than one person or entity or is retained by a single person. Simply put, given that Section 8(b) proscribes unearned portions or percentages as well as splits, HUD does not regard the provision as restricting only fee splitting among settlement service providers. Further, since Section 8(b) on its face prohibits Start Printed Page 53059the giving or accepting of an unearned fee by any person, and 24 CFR 3500.14(c) speaks of a charge by “a person,” it is also incorrect to conclude that the Section 8(b) proscription covers only payments or charges among settlement service providers.[6]

A settlement service provider may not levy an additional charge upon a borrower for another settlement service provider's services without providing additional services that are bona fide and justify the increased charge. Accordingly, a settlement service provider may not mark-up the cost of another provider's services without providing additional settlement services; such payment must be for services that are actual, necessary and distinct services provided to justify the charge. 24 CFR 3500.14(g)(3).[7] The HUD regulation implementing Section 8(b) states: “[a] charge by a person for which no or nominal services are performed or for which duplicative fees are charged is an unearned fee and violates this Section.” 24 CFR 3500.14 (c).

The regulations also make clear that a charge by a single service provider where little or no services are performed is an unearned fee that is prohibited by the statute. 24 CFR 3000.14(c). A single service provider is also prohibited from charging a duplicative fee. Further, a single service provider cannot serve in two capacities, e.g., a title agent and closing attorney, and be paid twice for the same service. The fee the service provider would be receiving in this case is duplicative under 24 CFR 3000.14(c) and not necessary and distinct under 24 CFR 3000.14(g)(3). Clearly, in all of these instances, the source of the payment—whether from consumers, other settlement service providers, or other third parties—is not relevant in determining whether the fee is earned or unearned because ultimately, all settlement payments come directly or indirectly from the consumer. See 24 CFR 3500.14(c). Therefore, a single settlement service provider violates Section 8(b) whenever it receives an unearned fee.

A single service provider also may be liable under Section 8(b) when it charges a fee that exceeds the reasonable value of goods, facilities, or services provided. HUD's regulations as noted state: “If the payment of a thing of value bears no relationship to the goods or services provided, then the excess is not for services or goods actually performed or provided.” 24 CFR 3500.14(g)(2). Section 8(c)(2) only allows “the payment to any person of a bona fide salary or compensation or other payment for goods or facilities actually furnished or services actually performed,” i.e., permitting only that compensation which is reasonably related to the goods or facilities provided or services performed. Compensation that is unreasonable is unearned under Section 8(b) and is not bona fide under Section 8(c)(2).

The Secretary, therefore, interprets Section 8(b) of RESPA to prohibit all unearned fees, including, but not limited to, cases where: (1) Two or more persons split a fee for settlement services, any portion of which is unearned; or (2) one settlement service provider marks-up the cost of the services performed or goods provided by another settlement service provider without providing additional actual, necessary, and distinct services, goods, or facilities to justify the additional charge; or (3) one service provider charges the consumer a fee where no, nominal, or duplicative work is done, or the fee is in excess of the reasonable value of goods or facilities provided or the services actually performed.

V. Executive Order 12866, Regulatory Planning and Review

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has reviewed this Statement of Policy in accordance with Executive Order 12866, (captioned “Regulatory Planning and Review”). OMB determined that this Statement of Policy is a “significant regulatory action” as defined in Section 3(f) of the Order (although not an economically significant regulatory action under the Order). Any changes to the Statement of Policy resulting from this review are available for public inspection between 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. weekdays in the Office of the Rules Docket Clerk.

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Dated: October 15, 2001.

John C. Weicher,

Assistant Secretary for Housing-Federal Housing Commissioner.

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Footnotes

1.  Indirect fees from lenders are also known as “back funded payments,” “overages,” or “servicing release premiums.”

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2.  In both the HUD/Federal Reserve Board Report on RESPA/TILA Reform, 1998, and the HUD/Treasury Report on Curbing Predatory Home Mortgage Lending, 2000, the agencies recommended earlier disclosures to facilitate shopping and lower settlement costs.

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3.  See e.g., Old Informal Opinion (6), August 16, 1976 and Old Informal Opinion (65), April 4, 1980; Barron and Berenson, Federal Regulation of Real Estate and Mortgage Lending, (4th Ed.1998). On November 2, 1992 (57 F.R. 49600), when HUD issued revisions to its RESPA regulations, it withdrew all of its informal counsel opinions and staff interpretations issued before that date. The 1992 rule provided, however, that courts and administrative agencies could use HUD's previous opinions to determine the validity of conduct occurring under the previous version of Regulation X. See 24 CFR 3500.4(c).

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4.   The heading to 24 CFR 3500.14 is titled “Prohibition against kickbacks and unearned fees.” However, the heading of subsection (c) is titled “split of charges,” and the preamble to the November 1992 rule states “[s]ection 8 of RESPA (12 U.S.C. 2607) prohibits kickbacks for referral of business incident to or part of a settlement service and also prohibits the splitting of a charge for a settlement service, other than for services actually performed (i.e., no payment of unearned fees).” 57 FR 49600 (November 2, 1992). The rule headings and preamble text are a generalized description of Section 8 that is more developed in the actual regulation text. As discussed in Section D of this Statement of Policy, HUD believes that the actual text of the rules, as amended in 1992, makes clear that Section 8(b)'s prohibitions against unearned fees apply even when only one settlement service provider is involved.

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5.  This final rule was delayed by legislation, but the Department implemented portions of the final rule that were not affected by the legislative delay on November 15, 1996. 61 FR 58472 (November 15, 1996).

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6.   HUD is, of course, unlikely to direct any enforcement actions against consumers for the payment of unearned fees, because a consumer's intent is to make payment for services, not an unearned fee.

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7.  HUD notes that some lenders have charged an additional fee merely for “reviewing” another settlement service provider's services. HUD does not regard such “review” as constituting an actual, necessary, or distinct additional service permissible under HUD's regulations.

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[FR Doc. 01-26321 Filed 10-15-01; 4:51 pm]

BILLING CODE 4210-27-P